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Los Angeles, California, United States

Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Book Review: "Jesus & Justice"

Jesus and Justice: Evangelicals, Race and American Politics
by Peter Heltzel
Yale Univ. Press, 2009

Jesus and Justice is a broad overview of the impact of Evangelicalism in American politics. Heltzel discusses how Evangelicalism went from being an "anti-slavery, anti-segregation, anti-racism, reconciliation movement seeking to bear witness for Christ through being a parable of the Kingdom of God” [p. 14] to the divisive, misogynistic, racially charged movement we see today, and attempts to chronicle its progression.

The book starts with the origins Evangelicalism. The term originates with Martin Luther in Germany and has a revivalist background. Evangelicalism calls its members to live out their faith, being active in social and political matters, in an effort to bring the Kingdom of God here on earth.

Heltzel goes on to describe how the culmination of faith and activism caused the revival at Kane Ridge, Kentucky in 1801, where a large group of black and white southern Evangelicals came together to repent for the sin of slavery. This is a unified Evangelical meeting which helped to spark the fire of Abolitionism in America. A fire which ultimate spread to provoked the Civil War.

Heltzel also discusses some of the contradictions that existed in early American Evangelicalism and persist to this day. He starts with the rise of a segregated Evangelicalism immediately after the revival at Kane Ridge and how it impacted American culture, particularly in the south. Heltzel goes on to discuss the racial and philosophical tensions that exist between white Evangelicalism, (i.e., Focus on the Family) and modern prophetic Black Christianity, which rose in response Evangelicalism’s segregationist practices. He also discusses why traditional white Evangelicalism and Prophetic Black Christianity have never been able to merge as one unified Evangelicalism, as it was in the beginning.

Heltzel ends the book on an up note, with the rise of Sojourners, a newly branded form of Evangelicalism which seems to shed the racism associated with "traditional" Evangelicalism and focus on reconciling Evangelicalism as one unified group. An Evangelicalism ready for the 21st century.

Evangelicalism historically, has always been a movement of political activism, encouraging its members to put their faith into practice and Heltzel does an excellent job synopsizing it’s influence on American culture. He also causes one to question Evangelicalism’s future, race relations in our nation, and why even with the rise of Sojourners, the following statement is still true:
"The decades before the civil war constitute, thus, not only the most intensely partisan period in American history but also the period in which theology was most directly applied to public issues. The only era that comes close is our own."
- Peter Heltzel
Jesus and Justice,( p. 8)